The Spy Who Briefed Me: The benefits and risks of cooperation between the Canadian Intelligence and national security community and its non-traditional partners


Stephanie Carvin
Thomas Juneau

In recent years, scholarship on the Canadian national security and intelligence community has focused on its structure and functions, (Carvin, Juneau and Forcese 2021; Juneau, Lagassé and Vucetic 2019; Juneau and Carvin 2021), critical scholarship (Crosby and Monaghan 2018; Lyon and Murakami Wood 2020); Nagra and Maurutto 2013), history (Barnes 2020; Kealey 2017; Sethna and Hewitt 2018) and legal issues and reform (Forcese and West 2020; West 2018). Less attention has been paid to how the Canadian intelligence and national security community has evolved. The intelligence studies literature on change, reform, and adaptation suggests that we should expect evolution in the aftermath of two events. The first is “strategic surprise”, or “the sudden realization that one has been operating on the basis of an erroneous threat assessment that results in a failure to anticipate a grave threat to vital national interests” (Handel 1984; Jones and Silberzahn 2013; Lowenthal 2017). The second is “intelligence failure”, essentially, failure in the acquisition, analysis, or most likely the appreciation of relevant data by the intelligence community (Betts 1978; Gentry 2008). However, in our research, we find that there are a number of problems applying these models to Canada. First, this literature is largely focused on the experience of the United States and, to a lesser extent, other countries such as the United Kingdom or Israel (Betts 1978, 1982, 2007;
Byman 2005; Dahl 2013; Diamond 2008; Gentry 2008; Honig 2008; Jervis 2010; Kahana 2005; Morrison 2011; Parker and Stern 2005; Wirtz 2017). However, these explanations which link reform to the aftermath of strategic surprise or intelligence failure do not fit the Canadian case. Although there have been controversies in Canada relating to intelligence and national security, the country has generally not experienced intelligence failures or strategic surprises of the type seen in other national contexts.
Therefore, to explain change in the Canadian intelligence and national security community, we use the concept of “shock” to the system, based on a description of a need for a sudden response by one of our project interviewees. A shock consists of three parts – 1) an unforeseen event that 2) creates a sudden shift in threat perception that 3) the intelligence and national security community is initially poorly set up to address by itself and so needs to turn to partners it traditionally has not worked with before (“non-traditional partners”). This produces a requirement for quick adjustment in the community, by building bridges to work with new departments, agencies and organizations within and beyond the federal government. It also calls for internal adjustments, including developing accessible products for new consumers and factoring in intelligence to decision making where it was previously absent. Most importantly, it requires thinking beyond strict institutional mandates and stovepipes, and considering otherdepartments and agencies where previously bureaucratic and cultural barriers may have existed.
In this paper we briefly outline our methodology and findings of our research. We highlight the advantages of closer cooperation between the intelligence and national security committee and its non-traditional partners, but conclude with some risks and challenges that need to be addressed going forward.

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Research Area(s):

Security and Counterterrorism

TSAS 2023-05

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